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On one of his annual trips to visit his grandparents in Williamsburg in the 1960s, Tom Bigda-Peyton saved up the pennies his grandfather paid him to keep the Japanese beetles out of the backyard rose garden so he could buy a miniature replica of a Revolutionary War cannon from the Motor House Cafeteria gift shop.
He still has the cannon, as well as the early 20th-century rocking chair his grandfather had situated on the front porch of his Scotland Street home where he would chat with his neighbors and tell stories to his grandchildren.
While Bigda-Peyton and his siblings have collected trinkets, photos and memorabilia over the years to remember their grandfather, the City of Williamsburg has had a long-standing building named for him at its center for nearly 50 years.
The Stryker Center, named for Dr. Henry M. “Polly” Stryker who served on City Council for 35 years and as mayor for 20, celebrated its grand opening Monday after the original Stryker Building was demolished, redesigned and rebuilt to suit the technological and spatial needs of both City Council and the Williamsburg Regional Library.
Bigda-Peyton and his brother Bill Peyton – both of whom have a son with the middle name Stryker – attended Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at 412 N. Boundary St. in the City of Williamsburg along with current Mayor Clyde Haulman, members of City Council, City Manager Marvin Collins, WRL Director Genevieve Owens, and dozens of community and business leaders.
“Williamsburg was always like home base for us. We moved around a lot because my father was in the Navy,” Bigda-Peyton said. “Coming to my grandparents’ house on Scotland Street each summer was like coming home, so being here today was like coming home. I’m so happy to be here.”
The Stryker Center, which also hosted its first City Council work session Monday, houses the Council Chambers, gallery space, three public conference rooms and offices for library staff within its nearly 16,000 square feet.
Demolition of the original Stryker Building, built in 1967, began in October 2014 – about 10 months after City Council chose Stemann-Pease’s design plans for the new Stryker Center. The discussion regarding a new building for both council and library purposes began in February 2013 when the city received an unsolicited bid from contractor Henderson Inc. and Guernsey Tingle Architects.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Haulman called the Stryker Center “an elegant architectural statement” of the city’s goal to create a space for both civic engagement and transparent local government, encouraging conversation and debate.
“The City of Williamsburg is a modern, contemporary community with an iconic colonial village at its core. The two co-exist to their mutual benefit,” Haulman said. “However, it is important that we remember the two are distinct. The architecturally bold and eminently functional Stryker Center does just that.”
Bidga-Peyton said he found it fitting that a building meant to serve as a community gathering place would be named for his affable grandfather, a “people person” who spent his career as a dentist but preferred his public service as a council member and mayor.
“For him, serving on council was sort of like breathing air or drinking water. He wasn’t doing it for glory,” Bigda-Peyton said. “He did it because it was who he was. His life energy came from being the mayor and being on City Council and everything that entailed.”
They remember him enjoying the community interaction more than any of the pomp and circumstance that may have come with being mayor, such as meeting several U.S. presidents or the Queen of England during her visit to Williamsburg in 1957. Even with such high-profile guests, Stryker looked for a more down-to-earth topic over which to bond.
"My grandfather and the queen, it seemed to people like they got along. When he was asked later what they talked about, the answer wasn't the Cold War or world affairs. It was just, 'Our grandchildren,'" Bill Peyton said. "That was who he was."
The community is invited to tour the Stryker Center at an Open House between 5 and 7 p.m. Thursday. City Council also has a meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. that day.
Williamsburg Regional Library staff will move into the Stryker Center the week of March 14.